There’s a lot to be said for the ability to predict trends based on cognitive algorithms. But you know what? This tactic is reactive. 

We focus so much on redirecting consumer attention based on what’s come before and fail miserably at shaping trends and directing consumer attention ever forward. 

And it’s a trend that needs to change. 

Here’s why. And how.

A Scary Future or Current Reality?

Imagine a world where consumers tune out all advertising and buy based on need, not based on clever (or creepy) promotional pieces. Yes, in this world even your “touch points” are meaningless, because there’s so much noise you can’t depend on any number of interactions causing our brand to stand out from the rest. 

This is a space where every brand is online and vying for your target audience’s attention and “advertising” in whatever form it presently takes has hit a fever pitch —and so have ad blockers (the real long-term winners in any online advertising scenario).

This is not fear mongering, it’s happening. 

Online promotion takes skill, but it’s largely free thanks to social media, so everyone’s doing it. And unfortunately, many are doing it so poorly that consumers are tuning it out.

What Your Digital Team Needs to Stop Doing

In businesses around the world, we see digital teams focused on sorting out what an audience has done in the past and preparing for an inevitable xyz response, particularly around events ranging from holidays to politics. 

And it’s a shame, because these efforts are entirely predictable and largely ignored. 

Which brand isn’t racing to come up with the most creative trendjacking idea from moment to moment? How much time has your brand wasted on holiday or Super Bowl messaging? Depending on the vertical, each has its own list of usual suspects eliciting that “we must come up with something to speak to this [event]” response. 

Learning Opportunities

And the result feels like a ‘clever contest’ with brands vomiting witty whatevers in a steady stream of content and imagery that only rarely takes off — it’s too much effort for too tenuous a return. And it can actually negatively impact brand efforts, as people generally lack loyalty these days.

So stop doing that. Stop focusing on Black Friday because everyone else is. Stop trying to outdo Oreo and other big brands who already have the numbers to justify such antics. You’re not Oreo. And wasting your marketing spend on creating clever memes won’t get you there. Know your weight class and compete there.

Besting Your Competition, Not the Entire Web

None of this means you shouldn’t monitor audience sentiment and work to better understand and exploit relevant audience affinities. It’s absolutely crucial to take a larger view beyond typical demographic data — and yes, past behavior as a predictor is part of that. But most marketers still cast far too wide a net. 

Instead of thinking about what commercial trends highest during the Super Bowl or the next meme campaign to capture mostly worthless clicks ahead of Black Friday or Valentines Day, consider these questions:

  • What is your audience doing right now? (#rn)
  • What are they tweeting/posting/talking about in the moment?
  • Where are they? When are they there?
  • What do they like, love, hate about your brand? It doesn’t have to be anything sexy beyond an understanding you can use to generate a respectable uplift in attendance (for example), as Georgia Aquarium recently learned
  • Which other brands do they like, love, hate in your vertical? What do they like, love and hate about them, specifically?
  • Which other brands do they like, love, hate in other verticals? Same followup.

And most importantly — what adjacencies and audiences are you missing right now? Brands don’t know what they don’t know!

Segmenting is great, but segmenting in the moment is a must. And it’s the smartest way to spend those marketing dollars. Forget finding what’s worked before and riffing off of that success/learning endlessly. The time for that tactic has passed — or will soon if it’s still working for you.

New ways to connect with new audiences reveal themselves all the time, and often have little to do with national or even regional trending topics, even if you’re a national or regionally dominant brand. Attempting to force those relationships is ill advised and far too trendy to have any staying power. 

Don’t be the last to leave the party. Your audience is waiting for you — right now.

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